IfÂ your house is about to be filledÂ with a happy, hungry horde of relativesâarriving to celebrate the holidays and fill you house with joy, laughter and uncomfortable nonpartisan political discussionsâthen you’ve probably already begun the preparations for a Thanksgiving feast. And since the interweb is presently a tsunami of turkey-day advice, tips, recipes, and admonishmentsÂ (how many brussel sprouts recipes does the world need…apparently manyÂ MANY more!), I thought I’d share a new favorite recipe that’s not for gravy but for BREAKFAST!Â One that is perfect for serving a crowd and yet a bit more impressive than throwing down a cereal buffet. It’s a Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding fromÂ The Violet Bakery Cookbook, which is a new and lovely to behold cookbook from Claire Ptak, who was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse and is nowÂ theÂ owner of the aforementionedÂ charming bakery in East London. I want to bakeÂ every single one ofÂ theÂ recipes, not only because they look and sound so ridiculously goodÂ âButterscotch Blondies, Lemon Drizzle Loaf, Chocolate Sunken Souffle Cakeâ but becauseÂ someone like myself (who is decidedly challenged in the egg-butter-sugar-oven department) can still make them with ease and pleasure.
When I made this dish, I used day-old chocolate croissants from my local bakery, which worked wonderfully. Feel free to do the same, and perhaps enlist someone else in the house who’s there for a visit…drinking all the good wine…hogging the remote…napping on the couch with your dog and squishing up all the “good” pillows…yeah, that person…make them do it. Or, maybe a better idea, your sister’s kid with a love of baking and a can-do attitude, this would be a great project for them too.
And Happiest of Holidays to You and Yours! Stay sane. Have fun. And enjoy ever minute.
Chocolate croissant bread pudding
Croissants are heavenly things when made properly. In my first ever baking job at age seventeen, I learned to make croissants at the Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station, California. For an entire summer I rose at 3:15 a.m. for a 4 a.m. start. Armando (the wonderful baker who trained me) and I would drink a vat of coffee and set to work sheeting the dough and carefully cutting the shapes; triangles for plain croissants and ham and cheese, rectangles for pain au chocolat and pain dâamande, and squares for apple turnovers. At Violet we lack the space for a pastry sheeter (a large machine that rolls the dough out for you in perfect sheets), so I decided not to make croissants when we first opened. A difficult decision, but the right one. You canât do everything. For a time we bought croissants in and, if any went unsold, they were transformed the next day into this luxurious pudding.
4 chocolate croissants
300g (1Â¼ cups) heavy cream
900g (3Â¾ cups) whole milk
a pinch of salt
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
230g (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
50g (â cup) dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids), broken into bite-size pieces
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C/355Â°F (160Â°C/320Â°F convection) and butter a deep 20 by 30-cm (8 by 12-inch) baking dish. Find another baking dish that is large enough to hold your baking dish (you will be making a bain-marie later to gently cook the custard).
Tear the croissants into pieces and place loosely on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, turning the pieces halfway through, until crunchy.
Put the cream and milk into a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add a pinch of salt and the seeds scraped from the vanilla pod along with the pod itself. Place over medium-low heat and just before the mixture starts to simmer, or when it starts to âshiver,â remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, in a clean bowl, whisk your sugar and eggs into frothy ribbons.
When the milk is ready, pour a third of it into the sugar and egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add the remaining milk and whisk in the cocoa powder. Strain the mixture into a bowl or jug. Save the vanilla pod, rinsing it well under cool water and laying it out to dry before adding it to your homemade Vanilla Extract (page 228).
Put the toasted bread into your buttered baking dish, then pour the chocolate custard over it, so that the bread is covered in custard (you will have some custard left over), and let it soak for 30 minutes. Save the rest of the custard for later.
After 30 minutes, add the remaining custard and scatter the chocolate pieces on top. Place the baking dish inside the larger dish and place in the oven. At this point, use a jug to pour water into your bain-marie so that it comes at least halfway up the side of the dish. Check the custard after 30 minutes. Bake until just set.